Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander on Tuesday challenged the Trump administration’s response to the latest suit against Obamacare, saying there is “no way” Capitol Hill lawmakers intended to let the 2010 program’s protections for sick Americans fall by the wayside.
The Tennessee Republican said the Justice Department’s legal argument is “as far-fetched as any I’ve ever heard.”
He’s referring to court papers in which Justice Department attorneys said a federal court in Texas should consider a judgment that says as of 2019 two key parts of Obamacare are invalid — that people with preexisting conditions must receive coverage, and that they cannot be charged more than healthy customers.
The argument, outlined in a lawsuit by a coalition of GOP states, is that since Congress zeroed out penalties tied to the “individual mandate” into tax bill, the consumers protections tethered to the mandate should fall, too.
The suit says federal lawmakers are no longer exercising the taxing powers that made the mandate constitutional.
Mr. Alexander says that was never Congress’ intent.
“There’s no way Congress is going to repeal protections for people with pre-existing conditions who want to buy health insurance,” Mr. Alexander said, in the clearest protest yet from the GOP.
“Congress specifically repealed the individual mandate penalty, but I didn’t hear a single senator say that they also thought they were repealing protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” he said. “In fact, Republicans are seeking to expand insurance options for Americans with pre-existing conditions through a new Department of Labor rule that will make lower cost employer insurance with patient protections available to the self-employed and more employees of small businesses.”
Mr. Alexander is referring to a push by Mr. Trump to let like-minded trade groups band together and buy “association” health plans that do not have to comply with all of the coverage requirements that Obamacare imposed on the individual insurance market.
The administration is expected to finalize the proposal in the coming weeks.
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